Pardon the Mets if they make a wrong turn or two on the way to Citi Field this week. The Mets' eight home games in June match the fewest of any big league team since 2000, with the final two of them coming Tuesday and Wednesday against Oakland.
While the Mets are busy navigating, some questions and answers to bide the time:
Why are there still considerations for trading Daniel Murphy? Right now, he's the best hitter the Mets have and it's ridiculous to think his replacement would come close to his offensive production. He'll never win a Gold Glove, but the Mets' problem is scoring runs. Even if the Mets sign the best second-base free agent in the game, there's no guarantee he can perform at Citi Field. This team can't afford another Jason Bay or Curtis Granderson-type player contract. At the very least, you know what you're going to get from Murphy.
-- Chris H., White Plains, N.Y.
Your points are valid, Chris, though they're also the exact reason why the Mets should consider trading Murphy this July. Unlike so many of his teammates, Murphy has legitimate market value, to the point that teams would not hesitate to pick up the rest of his $5.7 million salary while also forking over a legitimate prospect or two in a deal.
Murphy has unquestionably been valuable for the Mets -- certainly more valuable than I imagined when I first started covering him in 2008. When the Mets asked him to convert to second base, he eventually transformed from a massive defensive liability into a passable -- albeit maddening, at times -- defender. This year, Murphy has demonstrated significant and legitimate improvement at the plate, walking more often than ever before, maintaining his power gains from a year ago and shedding much of the inconsistency that has plagued him in recent seasons. A borderline All-Star, Murphy is unquestionably a better player than he was earlier in his career.
That also makes Murphy attractive to a contender should the Mets continue their slow march down the standings. If a month and a half of Marlon Byrd landed the Mets Vic Black and Dilson Herrera last summer, and two months of Carlos Beltran fetched Zack Wheeler, what might Murphy -- who is under team control for another full season after this one -- be worth on the market?
It is also worth considering how Murphy, who owns a long injury history and typically plays with reckless abandon -- that's part of what makes him good -- might hold up as he enters into his 30s. He could make close to $10 million in arbitration next season, conceivably taking up more than 10 percent of the team's payroll. And Murphy might bolt as a free agent after next season, anyway.
Don't get me wrong: I sincerely doubt Murphy will be traded. General manager Sandy Alderson has historically shown a real hesitancy to deal assets at the Deadline, citing a desire to win as many games as possible. He held on to Scott Hairston two years ago, which made little sense to me then and now, and waited until mid-August before dealing Byrd for a nice package last summer. To think he would trade Murphy, who is far more entrenched in the franchise than either of those two, would be to ignore precedent.
But if the Mets are 10 or 15 games out of first place come mid-July, it would behoove them to consider it. The return on such a deal could be handsome.
We have many good young pitchers, and large holes in the farm system with position players. With this in mind, why was the player to be named later in the Ike Davis deal another pitcher?
-- Chris T., Leeds, U.L.
Because you can never have enough pitching. Seriously. Look at what happened to the Mets this year, with Jon Niese and then Dillon Gee both missing time due to injuries, and prospects Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard each sidelined for a while. That's not unique to the Mets, but it is unique to pitching.
When the Mets search for talent in a trade like this one, they approach things the same way they do the First-Year Player Draft -- searching for the best available players. Period. If that means adding another pitcher to an already pitching-rich system, so be it. If it means a hitter who fills a specific organizational need, that's just a bonus.
As we get into the summer, teams in serious playoff contention will look to acquire specific big league players to fill specific needs. For the Mets, trading Davis was not that type of deal.
The object is to win. Why not bat Bobby Abreu leadoff? He is a good judge of the strike zone.
-- Fred P., Blairstown, N.J.
I happen to agree with you. Eric Young Jr. does not reach base nearly enough to serve as an everyday leadoff man. Neither does Juan Lagares when healthy, though at 25, he could still develop into that sort of player. Murphy profiles as an ideal No. 2 hitter, while Granderson's power plays best in the middle of the lineup.
That leaves Abreu, who has not batted leadoff for the simple reason that "he drives in runs," according to manager Terry Collins. That may be true, but Abreu has proven over an 18-year career that his best skill is getting on base -- not driving in those who are already there. A top four of Abreu, Murphy, David Wright and Granderson could be more formidable than many of the combinations Collins has tried. I just doubt we'll see it this season.
From what I'm reading about the Mets' troubles hitting and scoring runs, I am wondering how much of that is due to their hitting incentives program I read about in April. Do you think this is causing players to not be themselves and overthinking in the batter's box, rather than being themselves and doing what got them to the Majors in the first place? Are they being overly selective?
-- Jim R., Myersville, Md.
I wish there were a way to know for sure, but every hitter is different. What the Mets preach might fit naturally for one hitter, but not another. It's worth noting that the Mets asked a sports psychologist to speak to their players this spring, during individual meetings regarding their hitting approaches.
What's also important to understand is that the Mets' hitting philosophy is not terribly different than what 29 other teams preach. All organizations want their hitters to be selectively aggressive. That does not mean taking early fastballs down the middle or trying to walk as often as possible. It means swinging at pitches in friendly quadrants of the strike zone, fouling off tough strikes and never, ever, ever swinging at balls.
The Mets' problem is not their hitting system, but their execution of it. Some players still chase out of the zone too often. Others are too passive on strikes within it. If that's a product of players misunderstanding the hitting system, then it's a coaching issue more than anything else. But the general philosophy of swinging aggressively at strikes is hardly unique to the Mets.
How can this team justify keeping Wilmer Flores on the Major League team without consistent playing time? Sparse at-bats make it difficult to find any consistent on-field production and his numbers reflect it. If they don't view Flores as a legitimate contributor, why not keep in him Triple-A and let him destroy the Pacific Coast League so that at least he could have some kind of trade value, and get regular at-bats to continue his development? His stock is being hurt by his light production at this level, by his lack of reps while riding the bench, and the fact that the front office is essentially declaring they think Ruben Tejada is a better option.
-- Austin, Brooklyn, N.Y.
This seems to be a trend, but I don't disagree with this opinion, either. The Mets have clearly determined that Tejada is the better option for them right now, which is their prerogative; he's hitting and Flores isn't. But Flores is just 22 and has shown enough defensive potential at shortstop -- really, he hasn't been bad -- that his future development is a real curiosity. I don't disparage the Mets for playing Tejada while they're still ostensibly in win-now mode. But if they're going to go in that direction, Flores probably does need to be receiving everyday reps at Triple-A Las Vegas.